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'Choosing a Bible'          Send a link to a friend

[April 25, 2007]  "Choosing a Bible: For Worship, Teaching, Study, Preaching, and Prayer." Donald Kraus, Seabury Books, 2006, 96 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

In his book "Choosing a Bible," editor and author Donald Kraus asks, "Why are there so many translations of the Holy Bible, and which ones are the right ones to use?" His answer speaks to the primary idea behind the book: "I wrote this book to help provide answers for such questions. ... I've had to think hard and continuously about them (Bible translations), why there are so many, and what we can and cannot do with them."

Bible translations can be divided into two categories. General-purpose translations are suitable for study and reading, while specialized translations have specific goals and purposes in mind.

For purposes of discussion we need to define exactly what is a Bible translation. According to Kraus, "Far from being the static, fixed result of a mechanical process, translation is a dynamic meditation, as much art as science, between the original language text and the language actually used by the audience."

In choosing a particular translation there are six characteristics to consider: the source and target languages; the original and contemporary audience; the awareness that the Bible occasionally quotes itself; the inclusive language used; how to compare specific examples in Bible translations; and the final choice of a translation.

Source and target languages

Despite the number of translations on today's market, Bibles can be viewed as a spectrum of choices based on the relationship they have to their source (original) language and target (translation) language. At one end is the pure form of translation known as formal equivalence. These translations are word-for-word, where "the form and characteristics of the source language play a controlling role." The opposite view involves a meaning-for-meaning translation. These dynamic or functional equivalence versions place the emphasis on the target language -- in other words, "to recreate the meaning and effect of the originals."

Original and contemporary audiences

These two audiences can greatly affect a Bible translation. Kraus points out, "When the original audience for a text and the audience for a translation come from widely separated cultures, times and historical backgrounds -- all of these aspects of the original audience's expectations and assumptions can affect what has to be done in translation." It is often difficult to conceive of the original audience for many biblical texts (who they were, what they knew about the text and what they expected to learn). It is equally confusing to translate the Bible for a contemporary audience when there is no one generic audience to which the Bible speaks. Translations that target different audiences can affect vocabulary, sentence structure and technical terminology.

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What happens when the Bible quotes itself?

Given the different Bible translations over the ages, it's not surprising that some "verbal echoes" occur in the texts. These echoes are explained as "quotations ... (in which) these references to other biblical passages consist of previously used words or phrases in new contexts." Kraus argues that these verbal echoes should be included in the translation "so the reader can respond to both the original text and the new one."

Inclusive language

The English language can pose many unique problems during the translation process. It is an ever-changing language; not only do words and phrases change their meaning over the years, but masculine terms give way to applications inclusive of both male and female. This distinction brings into question the approach to translations taken by the traditionalists and the contemporaries. The traditionalists believe that the translation of the inclusive language should be correct, faithful and unchanged for a secular audience. The contemporary view holds that the translation should follow the usage of contemporary English, a language that makes clear the equality and dignity of males and females.

Choosing a translation

How is a selection made for a group using the Bible? Generally the easiest method is to find one that is the most acceptable to the group. This can be done by determining (a) how the translation will be used (listening or reading); ( b) how the translation will be read (individually or in a group); and (c) how one assesses a translation (in comparison to other translations). Kraus summarizes, "We need ones (translations) that clarify for us the Bible's ancient character and the differences between its culture and ours. ... We need translations that make the connections between our lives and the Bible's settings as clear as possible... translations that can seem to arise out of our local lives and ones that draw upon the whole inhabited world, past and present."

"Choosing a Bible" is recommended to anyone trying to develop an understanding of the different translations of the Holy Bible in order to make an informed selection.

[Text from file received from Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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